Deadwood, South Dakota

When we rolled into the historic town of Deadwood, I felt a slight tingle of excitement.

My dad and I, both having grown up with a silver cap gun on our hip and taught from a young age that Indians instigated all the trouble back then, were buzzing with the anticipation of saloon brawls and tumbleweeds. My poor mom rolled her eyes silently and hoped that we wouldn’t be too disappointed.

A short time ago Deadwood, South Dakota was the epitome of the Wild West. Now, the same perfectly straight main street where gunslingers once took care of business with 45 caliber Vaqueros, businessmen and tourists were taking care of business on cell phones. Rather than slinging bullets, they were slinging text messages. There were no gartered ladies of the night, only waddling tourists with ice cream cones. The wagons had all been replaced by SUVs with yellow decals on the back.

One thing, however had not changed in over 200 hundred years…

The gambling!

There were casinos on top of casinos with slot machines in bathrooms, McDonalds, and anywhere else you could stick one. I dropped a dollar into one of the penny-slot machines where I had the option of pulling the lever 100 times (yes, it was one penny to play) or just betting the whole thing. I took my chances and the flashing machine gobbled up my dollar in one glutenous gulp without so much as a “thank you sucker” displayed on the colorful screen.

The highlight of the visit was seeing Saloon #10 and the very chair where Wild Bill Hickock met his messy end. In fact, Wild Bill sums up the entire town and is the poster-child for the American Wild West. Only in America could we make a legend out of a gun-twirling, gambling alcoholic that managed to accidentally shoot his best friend through the heart…with the primary lesson here being “don’t run up behind a drunk gunslinger in a dark alley.”

Survival tip noted.

Unfortunately, Wild Bill finally got what he had coming while playing poker in this particular saloon. Rather than going out in a glorious gunfight that tears up the entire town, he was popped in the back of the head by a coward. So much for the Hollywood version. We visited his famous grave which his admirers have covered with offerings of cigarettes, small bottles of whiskey, and I even spotted some foreign coins through the fence.

Even though great American history lies everywhere, its hard to get into the 1800’s spirit with all the Gatlinburg-esque tourist traps and shops around. There are the occasional cowboys dotted here and there wearing actual hats and spurs on their boots even, but its hard to tell if they are part of one of the many tourist shows or if they are genuine American cowboys that still see the dusty streets and hear the horse’s whinnies over the car horns.

Either way, it’s good to be in South Dakota.

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